The Lamest Duck

Column: President Obama’s final year in office will be a long, hard slog

January 8, 2016

President Obama spent the week defending his proposals to curb gun violence, culminating in a CNN town hall. Think about that. What else happened during the last few days that might warrant a presidential town hall?

Oh, nothing much:

  • Iranian protestors stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran after the House of Saud executed a Shiite cleric, escalating sectarian warfare in the Middle East
  • The stock market tumbled on fears of a global economic slowdown
  • A U.S. soldier was killed in action in Afghanistan, where the Taliban controls more ground than at any time since 2001
  • Iran revealed the existence of an underground ballistic missile launch site
  • North Korea detonated a nuclear device
  • A terrorist was foiled in Paris on the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo massacre

We have entered a most dangerous period of the Obama presidency. It’s not just that every rogue actor from Kim and Putin and Castro to Maduro and Khamenei and Xi knows he has one last year to behave badly without fear of reprisal. It’s that the president and his team are isolated, aloof, detached from reality.

They think a climate deal is a rebuke to terrorism. They think the response to jihad in San Bernardino is to ‘close the gun-show loophole.’ They think a new communications strategy will convince the public that the war against ISIS is going well. I don’t question Obama’s sincerity. I question his sanity.

What actually results from a given policy seems no longer to matter to him. Take guns—he’d sure like to. His executive order does little more than reiterate current law. It wouldn’t have stopped the killing at Sandy Hook elementary or in San Bernardino. Indeed, the most important consequence of Obama’s fight with the NRA has been record gun sales and a windfall for gun manufacturer shareholders. At least when Hillary Clinton takes on an industry, its stock goes down. Obama can’t even get that right.

The Iran deal is another farce. In recent months the mullahs have taken an additional hostage, convicted a Washington Post reporter of espionage, launched ballistic missiles, fired rockets near a U.S. aircraft carrier, and waged proxy war in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. The president’s response: no sanctions for missile violations, promises to exempt Iran from a tough U.S. visa law, a hands-off approach to Saudi-Iranian conflict. And of course sanctions relief for not testing a nuke. If only Obama were this generous with Republicans.

America has supported the Saudis for 70 years. That’s changing—without public debate, without serious reflection on what the repercussions might be. I am no friend of the Saudis. But if America really is to step back from our relationship with the Kingdom, especially as it teeters on the brink, doesn’t the president owe the public an explanation for why this course of action is the right one?

What we get instead is more of the same: a sustained presidential trolling of conservatives and Republicans, as the president uses the bully pulpit to provoke, to titillate, to polarize. With no other goal in mind than to make the GOP look extremist.

I wonder if the Clintons have considered just how big a liability Obama could be by Election Day. It’s no mystery why Hillary Clinton has remained loyal to the president—she wants to reproduce the coalition that elected him twice. But Obama is going to make it terribly difficult for her. His approval rating has been underwater for months. Two-thirds of the country says we’re on the wrong track. Not only does Hillary have to worry about the international situation; she has to worry about troubling signs at home.

It won’t be guns that decide the 2016 election but the economy and ISIS. The president is powerless on the former issue and ineffectual on the latter one. The Democratic frontrunner is unlikable and untrustworthy and running for her party’s third consecutive term. The Republican frontrunner is this man. This year is seven days old—and it’s already depressing.